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Who will see their pandemic money first? The UCP's political staffers, or Alberta's health-care aides?

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during a news conference in Calgary on Friday, May 22, 2020. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

In case you were wondering if Alberta's United Conservative Party was also going to apply for funds from Ottawa's Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to keep party staff employed, that question has now been answered.

Of course they are!

The UCP trotted out the same excuse as its federal counterpart for the decision to apply for federal cash from the CEWS: political donations have dwindled, what with the pandemic lockdown, social distancing and all that.

"Our fund-raising opportunities have been restricted during the pandemic and we have lost fund-raising events in our 2020 calendar due to the restrictions on gatherings," UCP communications director Evan Menzies told Global News.

The alternative, according to Menzies, would have been -- quelle horreur! -- to have to lay off eight staffers and make them apply to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or Employment Insurance to keep body and soul together.

Although Menzies didn't mention this in his conversations with media, that would obviously be unacceptable because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals would get the credit. Presumably the UCP staffers might also have had to stop churning out tweets and memes attacking Trudeau while they looked for work on EI.

Not to worry, though. There remains a legion of political appointees including issues managers, press secretaries, tour managers and the like -- 19 of them in the Premier's Office alone -- paid lush salaries financed directly by your provincial taxes to serve members of cabinet. Their comfortable employment was never at risk.

So the UCP's daily stream of vituperation directed at Trudeau and his Liberal government for not forking over more dough to the oil industry will not be impacted, even as staffers in the party office are paid by the feds.

One might have thought the UCP would have found other cuts it could make to its spending to save the jobs -- after all, aren't these the people always telling us, when it comes to Ottawa, "there's only one taxpayer"? Apparently not.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up!

Observers like Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt called it "a horrible idea" for political parties to use Ottawa's program for a bailout. “It looks really bad politically,” he told Global.

But Bratt diplomatically forgets that the United Conservative Party has, literally, no shame. Anyway, the UCP's favourite excuse is also literally true in this case: No rules were broken.

For its part, Alberta's New Democratic Party Opposition told Global News it had met its fundraising goals and wouldn't have to apply for federal help to keep its eight party staffers on the job.

Meanwhile, as far as anyone knows, Alberta's low-paid health-care aides, doing dangerous and essential work on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, are still waiting for the $2-per-hour top-up Health Minister Tyler Shandro promised them on April 20.

When the modest payment Shandro told them to expect more than a month ago failed to show up on their paycheques last Thursday, Albertans learned the money has been given to their private-sector and not-for-profit employers, who for some reason have not passed it on to their front-line workers. (For reasons never clearly explained, aides working for public-sector long-term-care providers Carewest and Capital Care were not included in the top-up promise.)

This raises an interesting question: Which group of aides will see their money first?

  • UCP party staff relying on Ottawa to keep attacking the federal government?
  • Or Alberta health-care aides relying on the UCP for a modest top-up while they risk their lives to keep their patients safe from COVID-19?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Editor's note, May 26, 2020: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Tyler Shandro promised the $2-per-hour payment top-up on April 10. In fact, it was promised on April 20.

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